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Excerpt from the Cruising Guide to the Dominican Republic

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The following is an excerpt from a Cruising guide to the Dominican Republic

There were a number of reasons for writing this Cruising guide to the Dominican Republic. The first is that the Dominican Republic is a beautiful country with numerous anchorages that are still virgin. They are well worth your time and expense to see. You will discover uncrowded anchorages, clear clean water (Luperon being an exception), breathtaking views, really wonderful people and much more. Also I wanted to describe an alternative to transiting the north coast of the Dominican Republic. This alternative makes for better and safer sailing as well as providing a host of beautiful harbors and anchorages

Most boats that make the passage south, come through the Bahamas, and then onto the Turks and Caicos Islands.

From the Turks and Caicos they head for the Dominican Republic entering the north shore at Luperon. They then transit the north coast heading east until they reach the Bay of Pamana, before crossing the Mona Passage to make their easting to the ‘Real Caribbean’. This mindset causes sailors to beat to windward braving the north coast of the Dominican Republic, which can be a dangerous and difficult coast. They must then transit the Mona Passage which is never easy, even when it is, given the amount of anxiety that most suffer quietly (and some loudly).

The ‘bible’ for this passage was written by Bruce Van Sant and is called ‘The Gentleman’s guide to cruising south’. Bruce writes extremely well and his advice is insightful and put forward with great detail. Nonetheless, no matter how accurate the book, the mindset is‘how to get past the Dominican Republic on your way to the islands.’ The Dominican Republic is one of the Caribbean Islands and ‘getting past it’ to get to get somewhere else defeats the reason we go cruising.

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Moreover, to get to Luperon from the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos is largely a windward passage; a very windward passage!

Arrivals at Luperon are generally tired and stressed; beat up mentally and physically. Luperon is a very well protected harbor. However it is really a mangrove backwater which was opened to the sea a little over a decade ago to provide cruising yachts an anchorage. Luperon has little else to offer aside from the friendship of the sailing community, albeit that it is a great hurricane hole. Access to the harbor is in shallow water and the water in the harbor is foul. One cannot swim in it or make water from it. The anchorage is often windless and humid. The water will foul your bottom and all you  intakes with a hard calcium like growth which is very difficult to remove.

Cruising Guide to the Dominican Republic - Luperon DR
The colorful streets of Luperon. Photo by Rosie Burr

Why do so many boats go to Luperon?

They go there because they are heading east and Luperon is the first and really the only major anchorage for cruising boats choosing to go east. Puerto Plata (Oceanworld) is just east of Luperon, and has the Oceanworld complex for those looking for a marina rather than an anchorage. It is an exceptional marina and has resident immigration and customs in the marina, as well as an aquarium, casino, restaurants and more.

Puerto Plata (commercial), still a little further east is a commercial port and not suitable for cruising yachts.

Aside from Luperon and Puerto Plata (Oceanworld), the north coast for all of its distance, has no other suitable harbors going east. There are some stops one may make along the way such as Sosua, Rio Grande and Bahia Escondido but these are small anchorages that are not always tenable. They are dangerous in northeasterly winds or even easterly winds with a northerly sea running. To transit the north coast east of the Dominican Republic requires really settled weather; ‘a weather window’. It is a very rough windbound coast and if the stops are untenable then one must work a lee coast for the whole distance with contrary trade winds and rough seas. There are times when the wind can subside but finding this window of opportunity can be frustrating and time consuming. Once the complexities of weather have been considered and you depart, if conditions change you will be caught out with adverse winds and waves pushing you towards an inhospitable coastline.

Van Sant recommends going down the north coast at night in the ‘night shadow’ of the island, caused by the heavier colder wind (Katabatic Winds) from the mountains of the Dominican Republic. These winds descend down after sunset and have a stalling effect on the trades. If you get the right ‘window’ such a strategy makes what is really a tough passage somewhat less exhausting notwithstanding that sailing inshore on a lee coast can be risky. And if you stand offshore, you have the trade winds on the nose having lost the moderating effect of the Katabatic Winds. Eventually when you make it to Samana and take your well deserved break, you have to start all over again with the necessity of crossing the Mona Passage which can be another very tough passage.

The alternative, which should give a much more comfortable and rewarding passage south, is to head west after leaving the Bahamas and not east.

If you have come south and east through the Bahamas, when you get to Mayaguana, instead of beating to the south and east to get to the Turks and Caicos, free your sheets and head south to Great Inagua Island. This island, at the south end of the Bahaman chain, is just north of the Windward Passage. Whether you stop at Great Inagua or decide to continue on through the passage you will be sailing on a reach to a broad reach. Or if you have a real desire to visit the Turks and Caicos, when you depart the Turks instead of beating to Luperon, free your sheets and head for the Bay of Montecristi at the NW end of the DR. Montecristi is west of Luperon.

Montecristi, in the Dominican Republic, is a large and beautiful bay of pristine quality water and is protected from all but a SW wind, which is rare. For virtually total shelter you may choose to go into the canal and enter the yacht club. The back drop of the area is EL Morro, a beautiful mountain with bleached white sand beaches. There are miles of deep water canals to transit by boat or dingy and a hospitable yacht club which serves wonderful meals at Dominican prices (very inexpensive). Since the water is clean you can swim and you can make water (if you have a watermaker). Also groceries, fuel and supplies are readily available.

Beyond Montecristi are the Seven Brother Cays (Cayos de Los Siete Hermanos) offering fabulous anchorages. To the west is the town of Manzanillo, which is the last town in the Dominican Republic before Haiti. After Manzanillo, you can then set out with your sheets free and sail west and then southwest through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. The Windward Passage leads to the south side of Hispaniola; all the while sailing either on a reach or a broad reach.

Why do most sailors not take this route?

In part because you have to go west to go east. And possibly because of the mental image that many have of Haiti and the insurance restrictions that do not cover some boats in Haitian waters. Going through the Windward Passage, leaving Haiti to port, is not the same as cruising Haiti as long as your destination isn’t Haiti. (I always send an email to my insurance agent when I make this passage indicating my destination). Once on the south side of the island you can set your course for Punta Beata which is Dominican Republic territory. The cape at Punta Beata extends so far out to the sea as to provide a lee for almost half the distance of the Island as you head east. Since the prevailing winds will be east to northeast this leaves you protected from the wind and the seas, giving you in most instances, an easy sail or motorsail along the coast under the lee of the land.

People have asked me if the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba is dangerous.

I explain that at the south east corner of Cuba is the Guantanamo Naval Base. As you head south through the Windward Passage directly in front of you and slightly west is the island of Navassa, which is owned by the United States and is also a naval base. Between Guantanamo to starboard and Navassa off the bow, I feel very safe. I would much rather come through the Windward passage which is a southwest heading with my sheets free enjoying my sail, knowing that I have not one but two US naval bases within earshot, than transit the north coast of the DR with all of its hazards and perhaps no one in earshot.

Once around the south side of the island of Hispaniola one has two choices.

Go directly to Punta Beata using this large cape as a lee OR stop at Isle a Vache. This island at the southwest corner of Haiti is beautiful and although you are in Haitian waters it is unlikely that you will be subject to any officialdom. The anchorage is at Port Morgan (www.port-morgan.com) at the NW corner of the island. The owners are French and have been running the hotel and fine restaurant for many years. Have dinner and retire to your anchorage in this beautiful and tranquil place. If you decide to stay and want to clear in, the hotel will make arrangements to go to the mainland and do it for you for a very small fee. There are no cars or electricity on the island and the people are gentle and welcoming. I have always found the island and its anchorage charming and very, very safe. I have had many of the children who paddle out aboard for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and to do drawings for us (we supply the paper and crayons).

However if you feel uncomfortable stopping in Haiti for any reason, you may continue further south and east to Punta Beata or Cabo Rojo,

which are both in the Dominican Republic. There are a number of rewards for taking the Windward Passage route. The first is that you have sailed the trades rather than beaten into them. Having beaten your way through the Bahamas this is a real treat. The second is once you arrive at Punta Beata (you can anchor at the NW corner of ‘Isla Beata’) you have a whole range of wonderful anchorages in front of you. Barahona is a great stop if you want to visit Largo Enriquillo, the sub sea level lake which is a national park on which is the island of Cabritos (Cabritos has many 16 bird species as well as crocodiles). Barahona also offers good shops Beata, to Las Salinas and anchor in front of the Yacht Club. Las for restocking your galley. Or you can just continue east, from Isla Salinas is easy to enter and a beautiful stop. From Salinas it’s just sixty miles to Boca Chica which has a yacht club (haulout facilities and fuel) and a modern up to date marina. Boca Chica is just fifteen minutes from the capital Santo Domingo where you can visit the first colonial city in the new world. Santo Domingo equals or surpasses any other major city in the Caribbean and has much to offer. Just five miles west of Boca Chica is the Las Americas international airport which is the Dominican Republics largest airport with flights to just about anywhere.

From Boca Chica heading east there are many other harbors, rivers and islands to stop at, and most are beautiful and pristine. The southern coast of the Dominican Republic boasts miles of white sand beaches to rival any in the Caribbean.

Ultimately when you are ready to leave the Dominican Republic you are south of the Mona passage and do not have to transit it to make your easting on your way to Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.

Written by Frank Virgintino and Julian Roe. You can find the entire 147 page guide available free at www.noonsite.com, listed under the Dominican Republic. It is available in English, French and Spanish.

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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